HL Deb 10 March 1982 vol 428 cc195-200
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Young)

My Lords, it is my sad duty as Leader of the House to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, who, as the House will know, died on Monday. It is fitting that a tribute will also be paid this afternoon in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, because the noble Lord's greatest public achievements took place between 1929 and 1965, during which time he was a most distinguished Member of another place.

It is no exaggeration to say that the noble Lord had one of the most outstanding records of service to his country and to his party this century. He was a Minister of the Crown for no less than 27 years—in itself a remarkable record. As so many have said in tributes over the last day or so, he was in every sense of the word a great and accomplished statesman. We recall his early achievements in the pre-war Government in the India Office and in the Foreign Office. From 1941 until the general election in 1945, Lord Butler was President of the Board of Education. Many of your Lordships will still link the 1944 Act directly with his name and I, and I know many others, regard that Education Act as one of the great and fundamental reform measures of recent times. Nearly 40 years later it still remains the basis of our system of education.

After the war the noble Lord, Lord Butler, built up the Conservative Research Department and in so doing he laid the foundations for the return of a Conservative Government in 1951: as a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, I should particularly like to pay tribute to this aspect of his work. Between 1951 and 1964 he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, as Home Secretary and as Foreign Secretary. He became one of the finest politicians of his generation.

The noble Lord came to your Lordships' House in 1965 and I know that there are many of your Lordships who will remember him in this House with great affection. He became a most distinguished Master of Trinity College Cambridge, but he still found time to come to the House to give us the benefit of many fine and memorable speeches on the great issues of the day. We all recognise the truth about politics revealed in the title of his autobiography, The Art of the Possible. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me today in expressing our sense of loss and our sympathy to his wife and family.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I should like to add a tribute from these Benches. Lord Butler was one of the outstanding statesmen of his day. He was a consummate politician but he was also highly regarded as an academic. He had a distinguished university career at Cambridge before entering politics, to which, indeed, he returned in 1964. He held every great political office except that of Prime Minister. But, most important, and what he will surely always be remembered for, particularly in the Labour movement, was the Education Act 1944—an Act that had the all-party support of the war-time coalition Government. It remains one of the most important and far-reaching reform measures of this century and one that has stood up to the test of very changing circumstances in the last 40 years.

The noble Lord was pleased to tell how he insisted on the word "comprehensive" being included in the Bill, and we in this House also well remember when he stood up for this Act during the passage of the Education Act 1980. When the clause dealing with transport was reached in Committee, he made a powerful speech and your Lordships rallied to him. He will always be remembered for his wit, his compassion and his contribution to art and learning.

Lord Byers

My Lords, we on these Benches would wish to be associated in full with the tributes just paid by the Leader of the House and by the noble Lord, Lord Peart. I count it as my good fortune that I served in the other place in the 1945 Parliament with politicians and statesmen of stature from all parties, of whom Rab Butler was an outstanding example. It was a fine Parliament and he shouldered a heavy workload in leading for the Opposition in many of the major debates of that exacting period of radical reforms. Before that, he had many achievements in his career—pre-war on the India Bill; as an influential proponent of speedier re-armament; as has been mentioned, the 1944 Education Bill; and for the next 20 years he was deeply immersed in practically all the major measures and important political issues as a leading member of the Government or the Opposition. Indeed, he did have a remarkable political record. At all times he was charming and courteous and he was often mischievous. Those who knew him will never forget that inimitable chortle and the glint of fun in his eyes. I wish that we could have seen and heard more of him in this House, but whenever he did come it was to very good purpose indeed.

My Lords, we send our sincere condolences to Lady Butler, with whom my colleagues and I on these Benches have for so long felt that we have shared a common political philosophy.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend, I wish to associate the Social Democrat Peers with what has been said. We salute in Lord Butler not only the founder of our education system, but also the master par excellence of the possible and a man who left half his name, along with half that of a most respected leader of the Labour Party, to an "ism" which is perhaps no more than a synonym for practical moderation. His characteristic and deceptively low-key sayings again and again threw light on reality, not only to those engaged in politics but also to the people at large, and there are few greater services that a politician can render than that.

Lord Caccia

My Lords, no one on these Benches can normally speak for others who sit there, but on this occasion I am confident that they would wish to be associated with what has already been said about Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. This perhaps especially as, of course, constitutionally in the other place they can have no voice. Even so, I speak with all due diffidence, for although I was one of a number of Permanent Secretaries who served him as their Minister, my direct experience was relatively short-lived, as his period of office as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was only to last barely a year between 1963 and 1964.

Characteristically, he made it plain when I first went to see him that he thought that it would be inappropriate for him to seek to adopt any new attitude or strike out on any new line of policy in the remaining months before a general election. He had, rather, decided to continue generally on course. As usual in foreign affairs, the going was sometimes bumpy. It was reassuring that he brought to his department a sense of calm in apparent crisis and a hunch, as Sir Edward Grey had remarked before him when Foreign Secretary, that things were rarely so good or so bad as when first reported.

Further, through his experience of administration and Government he did in his year of office put through the first reform of the terms of service of the Diplomatic Service since the Eden-Bevin reforms of the 1940s. In short, and to the great gain of that service, he was one of those Secretaries of State who showed in action that he cared for the good order and morale of those in his charge. It was yet another example of what has already been said of his eye for doing what was possible in the time available.

Within a year, in 1965, he had become the head of one of the greatest colleges in Cambridge, and I was then Provost of Eton. There, in education, I gained some means of knowing at first hand what the Butler Act of 1944 had achieved in the 20 odd years since its enactment. As has been said, this Act may well be judged as the single and most important contribution among many that he made to the history of our times. He it was who, by patience and persuasion, was able, with his Labour colleague, Chuter Ede, to get on to the statute book a measure agreed, as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has just said, between parties and by religious denominations—an achievement that had eluded us between the wars.

With less diffidence yet with fitting deference, may I also speak on a personal note. I had got to know Rab, as he wished and expected his friends to call him, in his earlier pre-war days as Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign Office. That friendship continued unbroken in and out of office, as president of Trinity and thereafter. Here at home he was a lucky man, for no one should rightly regard him as an island entire of itself". His first wife, Sydney, provided him, among much else, with the firm base, with the thrust and impetus which fortified him during the earlier part of his career and until her tragic, fatal illness, so courageously borne. Then he had the fortune to marry as his second wife someone who successfully surrounded him with charm and warmth, with unaffected devotion and admiration during his later years. I am sure that all who knew him—and not only on these Benches—would want their sympathy and prayers to go to Lady Butler. May she, as Homer put it: be smiling through her tears", when she brings back to memory the happy days she did so much to create.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln

My Lords, with all brevity, may I say with what respect and gratitude Lord Butler's work was always viewed by all the Churches in this land. Obviously, I think particularly of the Education Act. It was his gifts which turned what might have been a mere compromise into the very remarkable dual system which we still have today. Lord Butler's understanding of religion as well as of education was wide as well as deep. He was deeply concerned with the education of the disabled, the less able as well as the high fliers, and he extended education into adulthood. On the basis of those insights, I think that the Churches very much hope to play their due part in shaping the education service for the multi-faith and multi-racial community of the future, and in so doing we shall be following his spirit.

I remember asking him to come and preach at Coventry when I was there some years ago. I shall always remember his reply to my letter. He said: I should love to come, but I do not preach very well because I always wait for applause which I do not get". He did come and he did preach, and his sermon was splendid.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, as one who had the privilege of serving under Lord Butler as Financial Secretary during the epic first three years of his term as Chancellor of the Exchequer, may I add just a few words about my old chief. Some of your Lordships will remember that Winston Churchill entrusted the whole management of the finance and economy of this country to Rab Butler, and, although Rab had not had any previous experience in an economic department, he took an immediate and effective grip on the Treasury. It was a wonderful experience to see his handling of that department, containing, as it did then and does now, the élite of the public service and the complete mastery of the intricacies of macroeconomics, which he so rapidly acquired and which enabled him to handle a very grave economic crisis with conspicuous success.

I have always thought that his public service during those years has never been fully understood or appreciated, and yet he effected a turn-round in our national economy which had beneficial effects for very many years to come. It was a wonderful experience to serve under him; to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, so well called his mischievous humour, his always assumed cynicism, and his profound skill in the management of men. I join with others in expressing our deepest sympathy to Lady Butler of Saffron Walden, whose care of Rab during all these recent years has been so marvellous. Our hearts go out to her. All of us who have worked with him are left with a profound feeling of gratitude to him not only for what he did for his country but for what he did for us.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, may I add just one word from these Back-Benches from one who was not alone here in regarding Rab as a dear friend. Nobody did so much as he did to civilise the vast transition in our social order which took place between the beginning and the end of the war. It was his influence that made that transition civilised and affectionate. I can assure your Lordships that love for him was not confined to his own party.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as another ordinary Back-Bencher, a friend, and one who had the privilege of having Lord Butler as one of my two supporters at my Introduction to your Lordships' House, I should like to express my deepest sympathy to Lord Butler's widow and children. I would add that for several centuries the Butler family have served the City and University of Cambridge with great distinction. Lord Butler in his capacity as Master of Trinity College, High Steward of Cambridge University from 1958 to 1966, and as High Steward of the City of Cambridge from 1963 until his death, added his own particular brand of lustre to that tradition. I feel sure I echo the feelings of Cambridge people when I say that we shall not see his like again.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, I hope I shall not be thought impertinent if I add a word of my own to the tributes which have been paid to the late Lord Butler. From the moment when I first entered another place in 1938 until his death two days ago, he and I were colleagues in one House of Parliament or the other, and members of the same party, and I like to think close friends. When I first arrived I can remember the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs fielding with almost incredible agility that terribly difficult series of Foreign Office questions which took place in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and in the run-up to the Second World War.

When I got back from the Middle East there was Rab entering into the negotiations for the Education Bill, which has been referred to so often and is perhaps his most enduring monument. I think it is now difficult to recall, and perhaps many people do not recall, the welter of apparently irreconcilable opinions with which the education world was then afflicted, and the incredible mastery and diplomacy with which Rab Butler was able to create not a compromise but a permanent structure.

When the party to which I belong suffered that landslide defeat in 1945, there was Rab in the Conservative research department laying the foundations of what subsequently turned out to be the post-war Conservative Party. I know that I speak not only for my own party when I say that the continuance of more than one powerful party in the state, the unofficial part of our constitution without which the more formal structures would not work at all, is one of the bastions, foundations, of our liberty; and Rab did that. Then followed the 13 years of distinguished service in the very highest offices of state one after another, all of which he brilliantly performed.

My Lords, that is only a part of the matter. There is something else that I would like to add. There was a school of thought—perhaps there still is—on both sides in politics that Rab was in some ways too irenic towards his opponents. That was the foundation of the word which was referred to from the Social Democratic Benches. I never shared that view. I believe he was acting as a Christian statesman should act by treating, even under the conditions of democratic polemics, his opponents as he would wish to be treated himself. I should like to say, in that connection, that in Hugh Gaitskell, whose premature and tragic death was mourned outside the ranks of his own party, he found somebody who treated him in the same way. I have never thought that English life in politics can be long protected without mutual behaviour of that kind.

Several times when he was Master of Trinity I visited him there. His understanding of, and love for, the young was so noticeable. And so we remember him today and his widow with affection and with regret at his passing. We think of the man: his love of the countryside and of country people; his patriotism and, for me, always the extraordinary intellectual power and equipment which he brought to public affairs. Like others, I shall remember that roguish sense of humour which showed that in all the great affairs with which he was concerned he took neither himself nor his colleagues, nor the vanities of this wicked world, too seriously. God rest his soul, and light perpetual shine upon him!

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